- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

CAMP GRIZZLY, Kuwait, March 15 (UPI) — Corporal James Lill is a Marine with a special mission along the Kuwait-Iraq border — the care, feeding and emotional nuturing of "Dumb-ass," an involuntary conscript to the ranks of Bravo Company upon whom the lives of dozens of Marines may depend.

Dumb-ass is there in case Iraqi forces use chemical weapons on troops invading the country to topple Saddam Hussein and rid it of weapons of mass destruction.

So special is Dumb-ass, that he has his own special sleeping quarters, a constant supply of food, and heaps of attention.

"Did you feed Dumb-ass?" Gunnery Sgt. Ron Jenks asked Lill Friday. "Did you talk to him at all?"

"Yes, Sir. And I said, 'Good morning.'"

"But did you TALK to him?" Jenks persisted.

"Yeah," piped up 1st Sgt. Bill Leuthe. "Did you show him l-o-o-o-v-e?"

Dumb-ass is a pigeon. Just an ordinary black pigeon with a white-tipped tail who will go into battle with Marines to act as an extra gas detector, much like canaries once did for coal miners in the United States.

A total of five birds were handed out to Bravo and other component units of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regimental Combat Team of the 1st Division, which are expected to be among the first to cross the frontier into battle if the order is ever given.

"The birds aren't really an early warning system, they're more of a sanity check," Chief Warrant Officer Philip Ross told United Press International. "There are liable to be false readings, people on edge could give false alarms and announcing attacks when there aren't any. The birds will be the verifiers because it would take so little gas to kill them."

Ross said he believes 200 to 400 birds have been given out throughout the division.

Ross is the NBC (nuclear, chemical, biological) officer for Bravo Company, in charge of training troops in the use of chem-bio gear and in how to respond to attacks.

Bravo has been trained for 18 months in detection of chemical agents and response to them, and he says that in his 14-years in the field no unit was more prepared to handle a nightmare attack.

"These guys are ready. I've trained them to live," he said.

Saddam Hussein has never accounted for the VX, Sarin and other gases Iraq was known to possess in the late 1990s. Their possible use against U.S. forces would not be without precedent. During the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s, Iraq regularly used mustard gas and other agents.

Each Marine at Camp Grizzly, within 30 miles of the Iraqi border, is equipped with a two-piece, sealing chem-bio suit, special boots and gloves and mask. They also carry canteens with special caps for use with the suits. In drill after drill, the Marines learn to don their masks within 9 seconds. The masks never leave their sides … ever.

Dumb-ass is the second generation avian detector issued to Marines here. A few weeks ago, chickens bought locally were distributed.

Ross said a couple of the birds were diseased, the disease spread, and killed off the others.

Lill took the one-eyed chicken — nicknamed "Dip-sh— — for walks around the camp, but the love and attention were for naught.

"I'd take it for walks, with a cord on its little leg, and everyone would have a good laugh," he said.

"But after about three days, his head was on the deck (floor) of his cage and he couldn't lift it. We tried giving it water because it wasn't drinking from his little bowl, but he died."

Plans for a funeral of sorts were scrapped in favor of a black plastic garbage bag.

"I'm going to try to take better care of him this time," said Lill, a little sheepish about his assignment. "I don't want this one to die. Everybody is counting on it (the bird) for their survival."

If Marines cross the border into battle, Dumb-ass will have special place, up front in a lead vehicle in his little wire cage.

All eyes will be on him.

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